The Jollies: History

In 2002, Alan Ayckbourn set out to write a family show for the Christmas period, inspired by the country’s growing obsession with reality television shows such as Big Brother.

The Jollies was initially intended to be an entirely different play to the one actually written. As initially conceived, the play was inspired by reality television with the premise being a family living under the constant eye of the camera, who begin to realise things aren’t quite what they seem. This information was passed onto the Stephen Joseph Theatre marketing department and letters were sent out to schools advertising the play for Christmas and from whom bookings were taken.

What actually transpired was very different to what was advertised. Having announced the play in June, Alan began writing it at the start of August. Alan writes for a very concentrated period of time, but this time, there was no play. Alan had hit a wall and realised he wasn’t able to write the play he’d originally announced. A week later he contacted the theatre and announced there would be another play with a different title - neither of which he was sure of yet! Fortunately a new idea came to mind and Alan wrote an entirely different play but with the same title,
The Jollies. Despite having been advertised as an entirely different play to schools and no official correction being sent out from the theatre, the Stephen Joseph Theatre received no comments about the advertised and then replaced show!

The Jollies practically reads like a homage to Alan’s previous family plays. There is an over-sized dog (Mr A’s Amazing Maze Plays), a time-machine (Whenever), an absent father and a young girl who must save the day (practically all of Alan’s family plays). Yet it is different in it has a free-form beginning (the magic act of Mr Magico can be lengthened or shortened as befits the ‘magical’ skills of the actor concerned) and there is an adult accompanying the children throughout the adventure, albeit in a child’s body; the latter point marking the first time an adult is able to appreciate the abilities of her children as a result of their adventures and the children better appreciating their mother - a first in an Ayckbourn family play.

Despite its initial problems, the play opened at the
Stephen Joseph Theatre, Scarborough, in December 2002 and proved to be popular with the critics and audiences. Danny Scheinmann’s enthusiastic portrayal of Rambo the dog proving to be a particular hit with younger members of the audience but, as with the majority of Alan's plays, The Jollies demonstrates the ensemble nature of his writing with interesting roles for the entire company.

This is the second of three plays Alan has written for families concerned with time-travel and is much more the personal one. Whereas
Whenever and Miss Yesterday tackle personal tragedies which have profound implications for the whole of humanity’s future, The Jollies is centred on the personal effect of the time machine / magic cabinet and how much the mother wants to recover her son and how she also deals with a traumatic change in her life. Her journey casts her children in a new light and she gains a new-found respect for them.

The Jollies was published simultaneously with the play's original production by Faber but, sadly, in common with many of Alan Ayckbourn's family plays, it is only revived infrequently.

Article by Simon Murgatroyd. Copyright: Haydonning Ltd. Please do not reproduce without permission of the copyright holder.